Singers gotta sing

One of the hardest things about being away from home is that I can’t sing – at least, not without annoying people. When I am at home, in my own space, I probably sing as much as I speak. It’s not socially acceptable to indulge in soaring, echoing vocals when in public, or when in a professional environment.

I always worried that there was something strange about this need to sing. There is a social perception of singers, an assumption that to be a performer is to be bombastic or a diva (this is not necessarily true, any more than the assumption that stage performers are necessarily melodramatic in their private lives), and it’s made me confused and shy about it. This shyness is another reason I never sought out lessons, although I’ve been meaning to do that, and I’ve been talking about it, for a good twenty years. I didn’t really want to add in something else that might make me odd, and in a way, I didn’t want my singing examined in case it turned out to be dreadful after all.

Singing is like flying to me, it’s like breathing and dreaming and I don’t think I could bear to feel bad about it (although I do have bad vocal days, and in a perfectly predictable twist, I have more bad vocal days because I don’t know what I’m doing, and every vocal technique I know has been self-taught and hard-learned in a remarkably inefficient way that could have been avoided if I’d just asked someone who knew what they were talking about). Most of my singing, my Big Voice Belting, is in the car, or in my study. Because I have hypermobility syndrome, I have a good deal of thoracic tightness – or to put it another way, my ribcage is really tight, and it’s hard to open up. It takes me a long time to warm up after a break.

I still do sing in public sometimes, little humming lines under my breath, trying to keep the notes as even as I can on as little air as possible, trying to get the music to echo in my ears. When I am happy, when I am elated, it’s a force that pushes at my throat and I literally bite my lip to keep the notes inside. When I’m happy, I want to express that by singing. I want to express sadness by singing. Even anger is something I can work through by singing.

It’s hard to write about, because of that instinctive self-consciousness, as though my feeling that I have to sing is something to be ashamed of, as though someone’s going to tell me off for “bragging” or “having tickets on myself”. Thanks, Australia. Let’s never let anyone be happy with anything they have, or anything they’ve achieved, in case they seem “smug” or “up themselves” or “pretentious” (or my favourite: “they’ve got tickets on themselves, haven’t they?”).

The reason I’m writing about it now is that I’ve become aware, ever so slowly, in the face of near-overwhelming evidence, that I’m not alone in this. There are other people who just plain desperately need to sing. Singers gotta sing. It’s not bombastic. It’s not necessarily performative (although there is certainly an element of that for me). It’s okay to want to sing.

It’s just – music. It is just living in the note.

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